money

In so many ways, 1968 was a great year for middle-class Americans' wallets — and terrible for politics.

On the one hand, gasoline was cheap and unemployment was low. Real estate values were rising, helping average homeowners build wealth. Good times!

Still, many people were not feeling good — at all. In 1968, the tumultuous presidential-election year brought strident clashes at political events, third-party disruptions, calls for "law and order," racial discord and worries about foreign enemies.

Sound familiar?

There's a new book out about the student loan crisis, or what author Sandy Baum suggests is a "bogus crisis." Baum, a financial aid expert and senior fellow at the Urban Institute, claims it has been manufactured by the media in search of a spicy story and fueled by politicians pushing "debt free college" proposals.

We had a few questions for Baum about the book, Student Debt: Rhetoric and Realities of Higher Education.

Why can't kids today just work their way through college the way earlier generations did?

The answer to that question isn't psychology. It's math. A summer job just doesn't have the purchasing power it used to, especially when you compare it with the cost of college.

Walking to work in the Mission District of San Francisco, John Luna noticed a pattern. Just after the first and the 15th of the month, he says, he saw long lines of people.

"It's like trying to get into the most popular nightclub in the city," says Luna. But what he found at the front of the line was not a bar or lounge. Instead, the long lines led to check cashing outlets and payday lenders.

Most everyone knows someone adversely affected by student debt: More than 40 million Americans are shouldering a crippling $1.3 trillion in loans.

That burden is obstructing careers, families, dreams, employment and even retirement.

Uncle Sam and Wall Street have made lots of money off the crisis.

"My goal for this special session is to keep the schools open," said Sam Brownback, Republican governor of Kansas, talking about a high-stakes gathering today in Topeka.

He called lawmakers back from their vacations for a special session after the state's Supreme Court doubled-down on its demand that they make school funding more equitable across districts or risk a calamitous funding freeze.

"We cannot allow our children to be caught in a constitutional struggle between branches of government," Brownback said. But that's exactly what's happened.

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Tina Meins and other survivors of gun violence joined Democratic senators to push for tougher gun control laws. In the San Bernardino mass killing last year, Meins' father and 13 of his co-workers were shot to death.

"In mere seconds, my life and the lives of my mother and sister were irrevocably changed," she says.

The American Red Cross spent a quarter of the money people donated after the 2010 Haiti earthquake — or almost $125 million — on its own internal expenses, far more than the charity previously had disclosed, according to a report released Thursday by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

The report also says the charity's top officials stonewalled congressional investigators and released incomplete information about its Haiti program to the public. It concludes "there are substantial and fundamental concerns about [the Red Cross] as an organization."

A few years ago, a man came to pastor Wes Helm at Springcreek Church in Garland, Texas, and opened up about his financial troubles. Helm looked through the man's budget and noticed one major monthly expense: a payday loan fee three times more than the amount of the loan itself.

For years, Heartland Regional Medical Center, a nonprofit hospital in the small city of St. Joseph, Mo., had quietly sued thousands of its low-income patients over their unpaid bills.

But after an investigation by NPR and ProPublica prompted further scrutiny by Sen. Charles Grassley, the hospital overhauled its financial assistance policy late last year and forgave the debts of thousands of former patients.

According to a report by the Vera Institute for Justice, there are more than 3,000 local jails in America, holding more than 730,000 people on any given day. Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that jails "have impacted a huge number of Americans ... many more than are impacted by state prisons."

Need knee replacement surgery? It may be worthwhile to head for Tucson.

That's because the average price for a knee replacement in the Arizona city is $21,976, about $38,000 less than it would in Sacramento, Calif. That's according to a report issued Wednesday by the Health Care Cost Institute.

Investing for retirement doesn't have to be hard. You read up on how to put together a diverse mix of low-cost index funds, bonds, etc. Then keep setting aside all you can into that retirement account. Easy.

But when you actually retire and start spending that money, that's like going from playing checkers to playing chess. It can get a lot harder.

(This post was last updated at 6:15 p.m. EDT.)

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced on Wednesday that the countenance of abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman will grace a new $20 bill.

The decision caps a public campaign asking for a woman to be placed on American paper currency and months of deliberation by the Treasury to replace either Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill or Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

A few months ago, the U.S. military gave Zabihullah Niazi $3,000. He lost his left eye and left arm when an American AC-130 gunship repeatedly fired shells into the hospital in which he worked in northern Afghanistan.

The money was what officials term a "condolence payment," an expression of sympathy and sorrow for injuring Niazi when the U.S. military mistakenly hit the Kunduz hospital, killing 42 people.

Pages